As Israel mows down protesters in Gaza with brutal military technology, Palestinians respond creatively, with kites and balloons. Shir Hever discusses the hidden rift within the Israeli military
BEN NORTON: It’s Ben Norton for The Real News. I’m continuing my discussion with Shir Hever. Shir is a correspondent here at The Real News. He is also a Ph.D. in Political Science, and he recently published a book called “The Privatization of Israeli Security.” We’re continuing our discussion on the arms race in Israel-Palestine, and the other forms of military technology that the Israeli military is using to crush the Great March of Return. This is the protest, the series of protests that have been going on for 11 weeks inside Gaza.
Yeah, let’s talk more about that. You have called the situation going on in Israel-Palestine a kind of arms race between the Israelis and Palestinians. What do you mean by an arms race?
SHIR HEVER: Yeah. On the Israeli side this is absolutely an arms race in the sense that they’re trying to develop more and more sophisticated technologies which, military technologies, with the clear purpose of selling these technologies. And to try to turn the case of Gaza into a case of warehousing of human beings, control of a population, and pacification of resistance. So the Palestinians are trying to develop low-tech means of reaching out international consciousness through the barriers of the Israeli occupation, and trying to challenge the Israeli occupation with, with their, with the means at their disposal. And they’re being incredibly creative at this.
I think the most famous Israeli invention is the Iron Dome system, these missiles that intercept Palestinian rockets coming out of Gaza. And these rockets, we have to remember, are extremely simple. They cost about 100 dollars to make. They’re made in kitchens, in homes. And that’s what the Palestinians make. But the Israeli Iron Dome system, which is co-funded by the United States, shoots extremely expensive missiles. Each missile costs $50000, and two of these missiles have to be shot in order to intercept one Palestinian rocket. So they’re spending $100000 for every $100 the Palestinians spend just to intercept the rockets. And in a way, that’s already showing how ineffective this technology is. But nevertheless, it is proof promoted by Israel as a very effective technology, because it allows Israelis to live as if there is no occupation, as if there is no siege on Gaza. And it doesn’t matter what Palestinians do. Israelis can can keep on living their lives oblivious to the suffering in Gaza.
But then Palestinian fighters have also developed tunnel technology. The Israeli military industry is developing counter-tunnel technology. And this is, this is a kind of strange arms race. With the Great March of Return, we see a breakthrough in the Palestinian side. Because when the Palestinians started to use kites and balloons, and also just approaching the fence without any weapons and with with arms raised, the Israeli military just doesn’t have an answer to this. And one Israeli general was asked what, why haven’t the Palestinians used kites before, and why aren’t you prepared for that kind of technology? And his answer was, well, nobody thought about using kites this way. And I think that really shows that there is an expectation from the Israeli side that Palestinians will use weapons like military force, and this expectation has no roots in reality.
Palestinians are a civilian society, by and large. They don’t have an army. They’re making protest. And I think this new kite, which is fitted with fishing nets, what the Palestinians call the New Generation F-16, is really the embodiment of this, of this mindframe. The Israeli navy is attacking Palestinian fishing boats and preventing them from fishing offshore in Gaza. So Palestinians cannot use their fishing nets, and instead they’re using them to catch Israeli drones. And of course, the Israeli military industry is in a state of panic about this.
BEN NORTON: Yeah. To push back a little bit, it’s very convincing, this, this argument you have about an arms race going on. But the use of the term arms race also implies that there is a kind of equivalence between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Although, you know, as you just discussed, we’re talking about extremely advanced military technology on the Israeli side provided by the U.S., who has the largest army in the world, the largest military on the planet. And on the other side we’re talking about, as you mentioned, people with $100 homemade rockets, kites, and balloons. So you also seem to be implying that that Israel might not actually winning this so-called arms race. What is your response?
SHIR HEVER: Yeah. I think that for scholars who are looking at what’s going on in Gaza, it’s very important to avoid speaking about an equivalency. Absolutely. We cannot make an equivalency between the jailers and the prisoners in Gaza.
But the other extreme that we should also avoid is to take away the agency from Palestinians. Because if we really talk about just jailers and prisoners, and, and don’t understand that Palestinians are constantly rattling the cage, and constantly finding ways to sneak through and to, and to challenge the Israeli occupation, we are not seeing the whole picture. And while just a simple analysis of the, of the force, and this arms race, as I call it, shows that Israel has much more killing power, much more weapons and more money, and so on. But let’s look at the rhetoric of Israelis and Palestinians. Let’s look at the Israeli media and the Palestinian media, how are they reporting the situation.
And here we see something very interesting. We see the Palestinians, even after they bury their dead, they continue to protest and they continue to be hopeful. And they continue to use humor and the positive language, like calling their kites the new F-16. On the Israeli side there is a constant sense of, of fear, and defeat. The Israeli military is in a state of panic, and they don’t know how exactly they should respond to these very colorful and very effective means of Palestinians to draw international attention to themselves. And we’ve seen over the weekend Israeli military attacking Hamas targets. Or so they say. They’re saying that these are Hamas targets. They’re not attacking the demonstrators along the fence, but rather warehouses inside Gaza where they claimed that Hamas has ammunition. With this kind of hope that by attacking ammunition stores of Hamas, then the Hamas party will stop the demonstrations against the fence. But they’re achieving the exact opposite result, because the protesters are am showing an alternative to the Hamas politics. The protesters are saying we can use non-violent protest to achieve more than Hamas has achieved with their weapons, ever.
And Hamas is very threatened by this. And then when when the Israeli air force goes around and bombs Hamas weapon storages, they’re only making the protests more effective, and stronger. And so in that sense I think Palestinians are winning the arms race, and the cohesion on the Israeli side is really collapsing.
BEN NORTON: Yeah, and then Shir, finally, the Israeli military is equipped with a staggering array of deadly and non-deadly weapons, and with enough ammunition to kill as many Palestinians as it wants. It seems, however, that the soldiers are only using a small selection of those weapons in Gaza. Sniper rifles, tear gas, drones, and other missiles which are actually not even really used near the fence, but only deep inside Gaza. Why is that?
SHIR HEVER: Well, my interpretation of this is that there is a discipline crisis in the Israeli military. From the very beginning of the Great March of Return, the Israeli command tried to get the Israeli soldiers to rely mainly on the Israeli riot gear, and non-lethal technology, which is also the kind of technology that they want to sell to other customers around the world. But Israeli soldiers seem to be refusing that order. And I think the fact that Israeli soldiers use their sniper rifles, even at ranges where they’re not supposed to be used, and even if they have other kinds of rifles they could use a shorter ranges, this shows that the Israeli soldiers are challenging their own officers to see with how much violence they can actually get away with.
The Israeli officers have now a real problem, because when, when one very famous Israeli soldier murdered a Palestinian, Elor Azaria murdered Abdel Fattah al-Sharif in Hebron. And he went to jail-.
SHIR HEVER: And the Palestinian man was incapacitated, lying on the ground.
SHIR HEVER: Yes, absolutely. And the Israeli soldier, Elor Azaria, who committed that murder, he received a very, very short jail time. But even that short jail time was completely unacceptable to Israeli soldiers. They said, we should be allowed to kill whoever we want, basically. There cannot be a situation where an Israeli soldier would go to jail for killing a Palestinian. So now the Israeli soldiers know that they can get away with anything, because the officers are very much afraid that if they use any kind of disciplinary measures against Israeli soldiers who open fire against regulations, there will be a rebellion.
And I think that’s why the officers don’t try to curb the use of these sniper rifles at inappropriate ranges. And that is what is causing these very severe wounds and so many deaths, even when the Israeli soldiers could have easily just reached out and grabbed the rifle with a very small caliber, which, which is still very painful and could still be very dangerous, of course, but it would be much smaller numbers of casualties and injured.
BEN NORTON: Well, we’ll have to end our conversation there. We’re joined by Shir Hever, who is a Real News correspondent in Heidelberg, Germany. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Free University in Berlin, and recently published the book “The Privatization of Israeli Security.” Thanks for joining us, Shir.
SHIR HEVER: Thank you very much.
BEN NORTON: Reporting for The Real News, I’m Ben Norton.